THE 411 ON VAC
BY PETER WATTS • PHOTO COURTESY OF CMBTC
Canadian breeders have produced a promising suite of new malting barley varieties. Registered in recent years, varieties such as AAC Connect, CDC Bow and CDC Fraser are successors to older cultivars such as AC Metcalfe and CDC Copeland.
With high-quality malting and brewing characteristics that are the hallmark of Canadian barley, they also possess excellent agronomic packages. These new varieties will help Canada remain competitive in international markets. More broadly, they will also support the country’s reputation as a producer of high-quality agricultural products.
The latest new varieties offer significant economic benefit to the barley value chain. However, a co-ordinated effort is required to gain their acceptance by end-users, particularly in offshore markets.
First, customers want to see the quality data generated as part of the post-registration evaluation process. Second, they need to receive representative samples of new varieties for their own in-house testing and evaluation. And finally, end-users generally want to conduct commercial scale production trials before they are willing to accept and purchase commercial quantities of a new variety.
Once accepted by a maltster or brewer, it takes many batches to optimize the processing performance of a new variety. It generally takes a couple of years for an end-user to gain an in-depth understanding of its quality and performance characteristics.
As a result end-users are reluctant to adopt new varieties on a frequent basis. A case in point has been the longevity of demand for AC Metcalfe and CDC Copeland. Highly regarded by maltsters and brewers in Canada and abroad, they have been commercially available for almost two decades. However, they have run their course as new cultivars have eclipsed them with significant improvements in yield and resistance to lodging and disease.
In 2020, to address the challenges associated with new variety acceptance, the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute and the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC) collaborated on the establishment of the Variety Acceptance Committee (VAC). The VAC is comprised of Canadian maltsters and brewers as well as key international brewing customers. The group’s member organizations share new variety performance data and provide demand estimates. This helps seed companies plan for scale up and create timelines for the introduction and acceptance of new varieties. Additionally, this ensures Canadian breeding programs deliver return on investment for the governments that fund them and for the farmers who grow the varieties.
While varietal adoption will allow Canada to remain competitive globally, it will also ensure malting barley remains an attractive option for western Canadian farmers.
Provincial seed guide results for the new varieties put their yield on par with widely grown feed varieties. With good to very good lodging resistance, they also exhibit better standability than older varieties.
And with inherently lower protein content, the new varieties can handle additional nitrogen application without exceeding protein levels acceptable for malt. Although conventional wisdom has been to maintain low protein levels in malting barley, rising exports to China have increased market options for higher protein barley. Chinese buyers prefer a range of 12 to 13.5 per cent while the mainstream North American malting and brewing sector generally prefers protein between 11 and 12.5 per cent. In contrast, the craft brewing sector, which tends to use 100 per cent barley malt, prefers protein content of 10 to 11.5 per cent. To manage barley crops accordingly, farmers should be aware of buyer protein requirements and consult an agronomist to determine optimal fertilization rates when targeting specific protein levels.
For more information on new malting barley varieties, consult The Alberta Seed Guide or visit cmbtc.com and click on “CMBTC Recommended List.”
Peter Watts is the CMBTC managing director.